Babson MBA Program Boldly Expands to San Francisco, Where Entrepreneurship Goes “90 Miles Per Hour”

If you’ve spent much time around Boston, you know that the name Babson College is pretty much synonymous with “entrepreneurship.” Centered in Babson Park, MA, adjacent to suburban Wellesley, Babson’s MBA programs seem to churn out startup founders at a rate that’s far out of proportion to the school’s size (1,600 graduate students) or its endowment (just $171 million). The entrepreneurs I met during my three years with Xconomy Boston hailed from Babson just as often as they did from Harvard Business School or MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Now Bay Area businesspeople who’d like to earn Babson MBAs don’t have to move to Massachusetts to do it—and they don’t even have to take (much) time away from their jobs. In a move that directly challenges local B-schools such as the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, Babson has set up the second off-campus version of its Fast Track MBA program in San Francisco. The first cohort of 34 San Francisco students began their studies this spring, and the school is already interviewing students for its next class, which will come together starting in March 2011.

It’s a daring and entrepreneurial move, but perhaps not a surprising one for a school that tends to practice what it preaches. After Babson president Leonard Schlesinger joined the school in 2008 from Victoria’s Secret parent company Limited Brands—where he was chief operating officer—he said his goals for Babson were to broaden the definition of entrepreneurship and extend the school’s reach around the globe. “This is our time…and the world can benefit enormously from a much more expansive diffusion of what it is that we do,” he told Xconomy CEO Bob Buderi in an interview last year.

Schlesinger says the principles of entrepreneurship are “documentable, codifiable, and consequently teachable to anybody.” And the Fast Track program is a case in point, representing the school’s attempt to repackage its two-year MBA program into a form that works for busy Bay Area workers who don’t want, or can’t afford, to leave their full-time jobs.

The program involves a combination of face-to-face classes, taught by full-time Babson faculty members, and Internet-mediated distance learning. First-year students start out by traveling to Babson’s Massachusetts campus for a five-day bootcamp. Then they use wikis, blogs, and Web conferencing tools such as Adobe Connect and the Blackboard learning management system to pursue remote projects. Every six weeks, the students gather at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus in San Francisco for an intense two-day session of classes and discussions (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm on Friday and Saturday).

“Unlike a typical evening MBA program that requires students to go to campus once or twice a week for the duration, here the students need to come to campus just once every six weeks,” says Raghu Tadepalli, the Massachusetts-based dean of Babson’s Olin Graduate School of Business and one of the architects of the San Francisco program. “We find that allows students, for the remainder of that period, to work or travel, and the only thing they need to access the material is a broadband connection.”

The Fast Track program is competitively priced—the program costs $70,000 for two years, compared to roughly $160,000 at Wharton and $140,000 at Columbia. And it’s tailored for the West Coast’s entrepreneurial culture, with high-decibel give and take between students, according to Tadepalli. “If the Boston program was going at 60 miles per hour, San Francisco is going at 90,” he says. “The students’ expectations are just that different.”

Tadepalli is careful to spell out what the Babson Fast Track program is not. It’s not an online-only degree program like those offered by the University of Phoenix, because … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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